Knights’ chip grows larger after latest football playoff win

Knights’ chip grows larger after latest football playoff win
Dave Mast

Zach Gardner’s Knights continue to play inspiring football, despite getting a serious lack of respect from voting coaches who seeded them 12th in the region. The Knights blasted host Cloverleaf 35-14 in round two of the playoffs.


The chip on the collective shoulders of the West Holmes Knights just keeps talking smack, and the Knights keep saying “bring it on.”

Having felt their 12-seed in the Div. III Region 10 was a lack of respect, the Knights have allowed that chip on their shoulder to drive them during their late-year and postseason run.

The chip first showed up when the Knights faced Ashland in the final regular season game. Seeding was already in, and the Arrows were the region’s number-two seed in Div. III while West Holmes was the 12-seed.

All the Knights did in that game was fall behind 14-0 before rallying for a convincing 35-14 win.

Then came the opening round of the Div. III state playoffs, where the Knights dismantled Mansfield Madison 45-10.

That brought WHHS to a play date with five-seed Cloverleaf on Friday, Oct. 16 at the Colts’ field.

Being the underdog drove the Knights, the chip continued to talk smack and the Knights kept right on responding, rolling to a convincing 38-21 win.

The chip got bigger, but Zach Gardner’s crew continued to feed off of the emotion of being overlooked by coaches in the seeding process.

“These kids just have to keep playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Gardner said. “I love the look in their eyes. Hopefully we can keep that ball rolling.”

The Colts (5-2) scored the game’s first touchdown, but the Knights (6-2) came right back in just 40 seconds, scoring at the 7:14 mark in the first quarter when Emmett Myers took a Peyton McKinney pass and went to the house on a 71-yard scoring romp that led to a 7-6 WHHS lead.

West Holmes would move ahead 14-6 when Bret Shearer powered in on a 5-yard scoring run, giving the Knights a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter.

West Holmes had struggled to find a healthy running back for a majority of the season and got Shearer back at just the right time. The sophomore stepped in and delivered a monster game, giving McKinney plenty of relief as Cloverleaf had to turn its attention to the white-hot Shearer.

“It’s great to have him back,” Gardner said. “This was his game to come out of his shell. This is the first time in a long time that we’ve enjoyed that balance on offense.”

After Cloverleaf knotted things up at 14, Brady Taylor got the Knights in position to move back ahead, setting up Shearer’s 15-yard scamper to pay-dirt for a 21-14 lead. Nate Ginsburg’s 29-yard field goal would advance the lead to 24-14, and that is how things stood until late in the third quarter.

With Cloverleaf driving, the Knights forced a fumble, and Brant Burgett was Johnny-on-the-spot, recovering it deep in Knights’ territory. After an interference call on Cloverleaf, McKinney hooked up with Tucker Kaufman on a long ball to the Colts’ 34. A McKinney 9-yard run and another third-down run of 5 yards by Shearer put West Holmes on the Colts’ 7-yard line, where McKinney flipped a screen pass to Taylor, who broke a tackle and danced into the end zone for a 31-14 WHHS lead.

West Holmes helped give Cloverleaf life by committing several penalties that helped the Colts find the end zone early in the fourth quarter, which trimmed the Knights’ lead to 31-21, but West Holmes quickly responded. McKinney found Brady on a 40-yard pass play, and Shearer reeled off a 12-yard gainer that included a face mask penalty being tacked on. Then two plays later, Shearer plowed in from 4 yards to make it 38-21.

Now needing big plays, Cloverleaf went to the air, but it would be the Knights who would come up big. With 8:00 remaining in the game, Ryan Bridenthal would thwart a drive by making an interception and returning it to the Knights’ 40. West Holmes was forced to punt but ate some clock.

On the ensuing drive, Cloverleaf drove down field and was in position to carve into the West Holmes lead, but Garret Eastep came up with another huge interception that all but sealed the deal for West Holmes.

Getting Shearer back proved to be a huge momentum-builder for the Knights. Shearer ran for 145 yards on 20 carries, scoring three times. Meanwhile, West Holmes’ stingy defense limited the Colts to just 82 rushing yards on 31 carries.

McKinney would go 16-of-22 passing for two TDs, and defensively, the Knights played very well, forcing three turnovers. Lane Graham was everywhere, racking up 11 tackles, while Shearer and Taylor each added eight.

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